JTF (just the facts): A total of 48 black and white photographs, framed in dark grey and matted, and hung in the main gallery space. All of the prints are gelatin silver prints, printed 16×20 or reverse for both 35mm and square format images. The works were taken between 1963 and 2010, and the prints were made between 2003 and 2011. Friedlander does not edition his prints, so there are no edition sizes/numbers. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Given how prolific Lee Friedlander has been over his long career, it isn’t particularly surprising that he can dig back into his archives and unearth groups of pictures that turn on a common theme. Just pick a visual motif, a geography, a time period, or a specific subject matter, sort out the 50 or so best or most representative, and voila, it’s the makings of another book. This show uses this approach to paint an offbeat portrait of the Christmas season, gathering pictures made over five decades into a sampler of Friedlander’s signature visual devices, each with a holiday twist.
While there is an entire review to be written here about rotting garlands, tired paper window decorations, insanely over-the-top front lawns, broken roadsigns, and snowless dirty holiday cheer, and about what Friedlander might be pointing out about our uniquely American Christmas celebrations (wryly cynical or understatedly optimistic?), I was actually struck more by Friedlander’s toolbox of photographic techniques than by his underlying commentary. Fresh from his Whitney show, there are Santas framed by rental car interiors and decorated with side mirror picture-in-picture reflections. Another set of photographs uses the empty beds of pickup trucks as a spatial device, adding angles and distance to decorations in windows and on middle distance house fronts. Telephone poles (complete with imitation greenery on top) make repeated appearances, dividing compositions. Storefront window displays enable multiple layers of refractions, mixing the staged scenes of the items for sale (look for the S&M Santa) with echoes of nearby street decor. Even chain link fence dividers and shadow self portraits are thrown in with oddly fashionable nativity scenes and West Texas holiday sidewalks.
Sure, there is something off kilter or quietly strange about each of these Christmas adornments; but there is more here than found tinsel, trashy blow-up lawn ornaments, wreaths on solar panels, and audaciously pedestrian baubles and gewgaws. These are extremely well made photographs that capture a tiny bit of Christmas spirit in the midst of making a much more complicated and mature artistic statement. Only Lee Friedlander takes a street scene covered in fuzzy faux trees, interrupts it with a telephone pole, and uses the pane of a phone booth to frame the people on the far corner, or uses skewed iron railings, front stoop stairs, and overflowing garbage cans to tell a chaotic visual story about Christmas in Brooklyn. Every single picture has visual pyrotechnics and hidden Christmas jokes to unpack, so take your time and savor these holiday eccentricities.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $8500 each. Friedlander’s work is routinely available in the secondary markets, with prices at auction ranging from approximately $2000 to as much as $80000 in recent years.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
- Reviews: WSJ (here), Time LightBox (here)
Merry Christmas from Lee Friedlander
Through December 31st
Janet Borden, Inc.
New York, NY 10012